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Happy New Year, everyone, and best wishes for 2012! In this, my first blog of the year, I will continue to profile some of the cases of missing persons that I’ve been featuring on my Twitter feed recently (and which are scheduled). This is Part II of the #disappeared series. Part I is here, and in that blog, written in early December, you’ll find an explanation of why I’m doing this, where these cases come from, and some of my thoughts about them.
Here are eight missing persons cases that I’ve linked to on Twitter. While I now profile two missing persons a day, at 11:00 AM and 4:00 PM (Pacific Time), these are cases that have stood out to me for one reason or another. It’s so difficult to choose which ones to showcase, because all of them deserve to be highlighted and publicized. Nevertheless, here are a few cases that I think are worth spending some time reading about. The links in each header are to case files on Charley Project, which I think is a terrific resource.
Missing Since: February 2002
Featured on my Twitter 12/8/11
Torey Newlin, a 23-year-old Colorado State University student, loved the band String Cheese Incident. He, his brother and friends had seen more than 100 concerts of the jam-style band, which has a Grateful Dead-like following. In February 2002, he and some friends went to Hawaii to see the band. At the band’s concert at the Lahaina Civic Center on February 16, Newlin took a tab of LSD and wandered outside after the first set. When he tried to re-enter the venue, the security guards wouldn’t let him. Supposedly Newlin said he didn’t know where—or who—he was. Barred entry to the venue, he wandered off. He’s never been seen again.
Newlin’s disappearance triggered a major manhunt on the Hawaiian island of Maui, and a lot of media coverage. Ground and air searches yielded nothing. Torey Newlin was pretty distinctive, with his long hair and pierced tongue. He wasn’t wearing a shirt at the time of his disappearance. Despite the media attention to this case, he has never been found.
Newlin’s girlfriend was pregnant at the time he vanished. She eventually gave birth to his child. Sadly, that child has grown up fatherless for the past ten years as Torey Newlin remains missing.
If you know anything about Torey Newlin’s disappearance, call the Maui Police Department at 808-244-6400.
Missing Since: December 1992
Featured on my Twitter 12/16/11
The hypothesis in the case of Nancy Elizabeth Branch—that she died in a plane crash—is almost self-evident. What is interesting, and frustrating, is that three other people vanished with her, and I can’t even find a record of their names.
On Sunday, December 6, 1992, Nancy Branch boarded a small airplane, a single-engine Piper Archer, at Santa Barbara Airport in California. I researched this case through NTSB records and found that the plane, registration number N81453, was owned by the West Valley Flying Club, which is still in operation. She and her friends were headed for Palo Alto after a weekend in Santa Barbara. The NTSB record of the case (link here) records these details:
“On December 6, 1992 at 1054 hours, the pilot telephoned Riverside, California FAA flight service station (FSS) and requested a weather briefing for his intended flight from his departure airfield to his destination.…The FSS briefer said the weather would continually get worse throughout the day. The pilot decided to go ahead with his planned flight. The pilot, with his 3 passengers aboard, was cleared for takeoff at 1203 hours. The pilot contacted FAA departure control and received advisories until radar service was terminated at 1214 hours. No further transmissions were recorded from the pilot.”
The pilot, whose name I could not track down, and his three passengers—including Nancy Branch—were never seen again. The Civil Air Patrol conducted an extensive search and rescue operation, utilizing over 50 planes. They expected to find the wreckage of the plane. They never did.
The NTSB report seems to suggest a possible cause—that the plane hit heavy weather, about which the pilot was warned before the flight. However, this may be misleading. What few news reports about the incident that I could find mention that there was no indication of trouble from the plane. It just disappeared. Nancy Branch is the only one of the plane’s occupants whose name was released to the public.
California is a big place, and a surprisingly large amount of it is inaccessible wilderness. Quite probably in a forest or mountain somewhere in this area there lies the twisted wreckage of a small aircraft, undiscovered for nearly 20 years. That, unfortunately, is probably Nancy Branch’s grave. One wonders if someday a hiker, a hunter or a forester might someday find the wreckage and bring closure to the families of Ms. Branch and the others who were lost that day.
Missing Since: May 2011
Featured on my Twitter 12/20/11
Specialist Joseph Bushling, a soldier, was stationed at an Army base in Dugway, Utah. On May 8, 2011, he drove into the desert in a friend’s car for reasons that are unclear. At 7:00 PM he called a friend to report that he’d run out of gas and he was going to try to walk across the desert back to the base. It was raining, he was cold and—the detail that everyone remembers from this case—he had lost his shoes, which were flip-flops. Bushling said that he’d wrapped his T-shirt around his feet. He did not make it back to the base, and no body was ever found.
Bushling’s car, however, was found, 64 miles from the base. It was locked and the keys were gone. Searchers also found his Arkansas Razorbacks hat, and eventually the infamous flip-flops. There are no other clues.
The Army initially classified Bushling as a deserter, but it doesn’t seem like he ran away on his own accord. He liked the Army and wanted to become a nurse. The question of the flip-flops entrances people. How did he lose his shoes? Was he running from something—or someone? No one knows.
The desert outside the Dugway base is a huge, remote place. A body could remain undiscovered for a very long time. Joseph’s, if indeed he is dead, has not been found, and may never be.
Joseph Bushling has a distinctive tattoo. If you’ve seen a man with this tattoo, call the Tooele County Sheriff’s Office at 435-882-5600.
Missing Since: July 1969
Featured on my Twitter 12/22/11
If you click on the Charley Project link to Cynthia Constantine’s case you won’t find much. The all-too-often refrain, “Few details are available in her case,” appears there. What we do know is that this pretty 15-year-old girl went out to walk her dog in Oakdale, New York on a July night in 1969. The dog came back. Cynthia didn’t. She has never been seen again.
There are rumors, of course. Discussion of her case on the Websleuths forum reveals that her brother may have still been looking for her as late as May 2011. There are also cryptic stories of a homeless man who talked about a girl who was abducted and killed in the same area and never found, and someone claiming to be a private investigator from the area who knew something about an illegal abortion ring run by a notorious sexual predator. You can’t believe everything some anonymous person says on the Internet, though—in fact, you can’t believe anything with that provenance in most cases—but, more than 40 years later and the case gone very cold, speculation and rumination is about all we have to deal with. Whatever happened to Cynthia Constantine, it was undoubtedly grisly and tragic. If there is a killer out there, he (or she) has not been brought to justice.
Missing Since: October 1978
Featured on my Twitter 12/26/11
The Sayegh case is heartbreaking, macabre, horrifying, and complicated. It also remains unsolved after nearly 35 years.
On October 25, 1978, six-year-old Cary Sayegh was last seen getting into a stranger’s car in front of the Albert Einstein Hebrew Day School in Las Vegas, Nevada. Three hours later Sayegh’s parents received a phone call where an unidentified man demanded $500,000 ransom for Carey. At the time Cary’s father, who owned a carpet business, was under indictment for attempting to bribe a public official—Harry Reid, who is now in the U.S. Senate. After this initial call, the kidnapper never contacted the family again, and Carey was never found.
Suspicion focused on a man named Jerry Burgess, who had committed a sexual assault near the same school where Cary was abducted, and whose voice Cary’s family identified as the ransom caller. In 1982 he was charged with kidnapping Cary, but the jury acquitted him for lack of evidence. Years later Burgess was arrested again. During the investigation that led to his arrest, he told an undercover agent that he could dispose of a body by welding it inside a steel drum. He’d done it before, he claimed—to Cary Sayegh in 1978.
The Sayegh case was one of the most intensive manhunts in Las Vegas history up until that time, but the case continued to spin strange tangents even decades later. Burgess alleged at his trial that Sayegh was still alive and living in Israel, though no one could prove it. Police evidently investigated at tip that Cary Sayegh was alive and well in Boston in 1999. That same year Cary’s father, heavily in debt from a gambling addiction, fled to Israel. He later came back and made a settlement with his creditors. Jerry Burgess is today in prison for crimes unrelated to the Sayegh case, but he maintains his innocence of the boy’s kidnapping.
Are Cary’s remains hidden inside a steel drum buried somewhere under Las Vegas? Or might you run into him strolling down Boyleston Street in Boston—or at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem? As of yet, no one knows.
Missing Since: January 2000
Featured on my Twitter 12/28/11
The case of Zebb Wayne Quinn, a Wal-Mart employee who vanished from Asheville, North Carolina just after New Year’s 2000, is full of bizarre clues that all seem to point in different directions.
Quinn, 18 at the time of his disappearance, left work at 9PM on January 2, 2000 in the company of a friend, one Robert Owens, each driving separate vehicles. Both cars were seen pulling away from a gas station together. After that, Quinn dropped off the face of the earth. Owens was somehow injured in a car accident—or perhaps more than one car accident—on the night or morning of January 2-3. He told police that Quinn had accidentally rear-ended his truck, then drove away. On the morning of January 3, Owens called the Wal-Mart where Quinn worked and told them he was sick and wouldn’t be coming in. Then Owens refused to cooperate with police.
Two weeks later the police found Quinn’s car in the parking lot of a restaurant. Someone had drawn lips and exclamation points on the rear window. When the police opened the car, they found a black Labrador puppy in the car. Zebb Quinn didn’t own a pet. They also found a plastic hotel room key.
There were rumors that Quinn was having a relationship with a woman whose boyfriend may have threatened him. The police investigated this possibility but evidently couldn’t find any evidence against her or the boyfriend. Owens was not charged with anything, but evidently he has been in trouble with the law since 2000, having been arrested in 2007.
This case sticks out in peoples’ minds because of the bizarre details of the design drawn on the window and the mysterious Labrador puppy. As for Zebb Quinn himself, he has not been seen in twelve years. Until someone comes forward, whatever might have happened to him—at whoever’s hands—can be nothing more than conjecture.
Missing Since: January 2010
Featured on my Twitter 12/30/11
Lester Jones, known to his friends as “L.J.,” was a graduate student at Mississippi State University, studying biomedical engineering. He was a member of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity and extremely well thought-of by those who knew him. On January 11, 2010, L.J. was traveling from his family’s home in Tupelo to visit friends in Jackson. He stopped at a Sprint Mart gas station/convenience store in Flowood, Mississippi. An image of L.J. was captured on the convenience store’s security camera at 10:18 PM. That was the last anyone ever saw of him.
Later, a customer at the gas station found a cell phone in the bathroom and turned it in to the management. It was L.J.’s. There is no telling whether the abandonment of his cell phone is connected to his disappearance.
L.J.’s car is also missing. It’s common for a person who is last seen in or near their car to go missing and then the car is later found abandoned somewhere, but L.J.’s was never found at all. The potential hypotheses to explain disappearances get much more complicated when you have to account for not only a missing person, but a vehicle.
If you’ve seen Lester Jones or his car—a 2002 Ford Expedition, license no. (Mississippi) KTW-714, call the Starkville Police Department at 662-323-4131.
Missing Since: December 1984
Featured on my Twitter: 1/9/12
The case of Barbara Zakon, like Cynthia Constantine, is one where there is very little information: once again Charley Project states “Few details are available in her case.” Barbara Zakon, age unknown but about 55 or so, vanished from Brooklyn at about 2:00 PM on the afternoon of December 22, 1984. We know nothing more than that about her disappearance. What we do know is a little bit about Barbara herself: she was a Holocaust survivor and in fact had an inmate number from a Nazi concentration camp tattooed on her forearm.
Barbara’s case is a sad one because it seems like there was very little investigation done in her case. The NYPD’s case file on her has probably been closed for many years. Meghan Good, the woman who runs the Charley Project site, wrote a blog about this particular case. She writes:
“[W]hat seems saddest of all to me is that she is so forgotten. The NYPD missing persons site is pathetic and rarely updated. It no longer profiles old cases like hers and, as you can see, there was little enough to begin with. Online, Barbara exists only on a few private sites like mine. Someone cared enough about her to report her missing, but it’s likely that whoever that was is dead. It’s just as likely that her actual casefile within the police department is either entirely missing or contains little more information than what I have on the Charley Project site. (You’d be surprised to find out how many of those old missing persons reports were simply lost or thrown away without being solved.) And, as you say, all for a woman who went through so much. Last night I found myself looking through Yad Vashem’s database of Shoah Victims’ Names at people named Zakon, wondering if any of them were Barbara’s relatives.”
After reading this blog I did exactly that. (The Yad Vashem database of Holocaust victims is an amazing resource, by the way). There was a Yisrael Zakon, born in 1875 in Lithuania, murdered there in 1941; a Yitzhak Zakon from Neustadt, Czechoslovakia, date of death unknown; a Mordechai Zachon from Warsaw, Poland, the owner of a shoe factory; and numerous others. We have no way of knowing if any of them are related to Barbara, or what her own story is about surviving the Holocaust. If she was 55 in 1984, she would have been born about 1929, thus making her a young teenager at the time of World War II.
I found myself thinking a long time about this woman. The Holocaust is an astoundingly awful and staggering experience to contemplate, and the only way you can do it successfully is by looking at it through the eyes of someone who was there. How did a girl in her early teens, presumably in Poland or elsewhere in Eastern Europe, survive this horror? How many of her family members didn’t make it? How did she eventually come to America? You could write a compelling book or make a movie about such a story, but Barbara’s will never be known. We have no clue what happened to her on that street in Brooklyn in December 1984. Likely we never will. This illustrates the crushing sadness of missing persons.
In the unlikely event that you know anything about Barbara Zakon, call the New York City Police at 212-473-2042.
I am constantly reading missing persons cases on the web and researching details of various cases. I am not an investigator and have nothing to do with law enforcement, but as I said in my first blog I think these cases deserve attention. If you’d like to help, keep up with the Charley Project and a similar missing persons database called Project Jason. I’ll probably keep doing these profiles periodically on my blog as well. In the meantime, hope and pray for the disappeared and their families.
Thanks for reading.
[Note: some of the images in this blog came from the Charley Project--my understanding is that they originally came from law enforcement agencies and thus are public domain, but in any event, as it's difficult to publicize missing persons without photos of them, I hope it is OK that I used them.]